The number of times I’ve scoured the internet for posts about submission is, at this point, probably in a World Records book somewhere. Spoiler alert, I have not sold a book yet …
… but I am on submission with multiple projects, so I figured it was time to add my drop about submission to the ocean of the internet, so that as the rest of you also scour for stories about what it’s like , there is one more drop of moisture for your thirsty selves. After reading this post, you should know exactly how long it will take you to sell your book, how much money the auction will drive your advance up to, and also how many copies your first royalty statement will–
Sorry … I know. Bad Jenna. Not funny. These are our hearts on the line, and trust me, I know your pain, because your pain is my pain, and it kills me to tell you what you already know, even though you probably clicked here to hear it again because, like me, we can’t seem to accept the truth:
No one can predict how quickly editors will respond, though I’m told that it’s not during the summer publishing lull, or any time leading up to the holidays (i.e. from about October 10th through New Years), or during book fair season, or on February 11th, March 15th-17th, odd days in April, or any date in May with the number 1 in it. No one can predict if your book, no matter how brilliant, will sell … *whispers* … at all. For anyone who has not been on sub yet, I know that is a HUGE downer to read this horrible, horrible statement, and you’re probably hoping with all your heart “please don’t let that be me, that can’t possibly happen to ME” and my darling, that is also my hope for you, that you will sell quickly and painlessly and never know the disappointment of having the treasure of your heart trompled on by editor after editor.
But as someone who is shelving manuscripts left and right, let me also tell you that shelving a manuscript IS NOT THE END. Not of you as a writer, and not necessarily of that manuscript either. Manuscripts can go through revisions years after the fact … if you, the writer, want to do that. They can be resurrected and redone, like one of my agent sibs is doing as they rewrite their YA project into a more lush adult version. My agent likes to remind me that “No manuscript ever has to be dead. We can come back to it.” And that is one of the reasons I love her.
Speaking of my agent, I signed with Lauren Bieker (of FinePrint Literary) in June of 2019 after querying for nearly five years … yep, since fall of 2014. During those 5 years, I wrote and queried five different books, accumulating well over 500 rejections. The 5th book, a YA mystery we’ll call NTOYT, landed me two offers, and I signed with Lauren with a stomach full of butterflies and eyes full of stars.
We revised NTOYT during the summer, and it went out in October of 2019.
I was sure it would sell within weeks. Probably at auction. One of my comps was One of us Is Lying, which was doing soooo well, and I could see where it would fit on the shelf and imagine the miniseries and the soundtrack and and and …
While we waited for editor responses, I realized I had to work on something else. Because of my long querying journey, I did have 4 other manuscripts I still believed in, so I looked at my options and decided to resurrect my YA horror, AEN, which had gotten VERY close with an agent, but Lauren had never seen. It took me a couple months to get that one into shape, and it was in Lauren’s inbox by February 2020. By then, we were talking about a second round for NTOYT when … you guessed it. COVID hit, and Lauren and I decided to press pause on new subs until we got more of a sense of what the heck was happening with publishing and if very possibly this was the end of books, human existence, and toilet paper.
We jumped into working on AEN. By the time it was ready to send, I believed in AEN even more than NTOYT, and since they were both YA and we couldn’t sub both to the same editor pool, we decided to press pause on NTOYT and go full throttle with AEN.
In August 2020, AEN went out.
AEN got a super complimentary rejection from a top editor at a dream imprint which I can’t help but sharing (anonymously, of course) mainly in order to boost my own spirits: “I kept coming back to this submission, as Jenna’s prose really stood out to me. She has a poetic style of writing that is hard not to be impressed by, as are her high-concept ideas … [okay then there’s the part where she rejects it] … Jenna is such a talent. I’d love to see anything else she writes!”
Ugh, the GUT PUNCH of those fabulous rejections when they tell you how great you are but you also walk away heartbroken, holding their words like broken treasures in your hands! We must coin a word for this very niche feeling, because I swear, it is … something.
AEN came close enough with another editor at a major imprint that there was an email exchange between her and my agent about a few of the plot points that led to a flurry of text exchanges between me and Lauren that I was SURE would lead towards further conversations with the editor in question which would lead to an offer …
yeah no uh-uh. But it’s okay because I was reviving ANOTHER project from my querying days that I realized I was definitely still madly in love with and dadgum it had sequins and motorcycles and ice-hearted gangsters and daredevil girls and … THIS WAS THE ONE! SO COMMERCIAL!
March 2021, my sequins-and-motorcycles YA speculative thriller, KC, went out. It was definitely on the edge between YA and adult, so we sent it out to a combination of adult and YA editors with a focus on editors interested in crossover titles. Editors loved the voice! “Strong voice,” in fact, was a theme … in their rejection emails. One editor said “It’s such a fun premise, and it was easy for me to get into the plot,” and another said, “Jenna’s writing is super accessible, and I got sucked into this character’s voice from the outset.” But still no bites.
I had to write something else.
Now solidly in 2021, as AEN and KC made their way through further rounds of editors, I found myself pivoting away from the YA age group. I had this fantasy idea that could skew adult, as well as some middle aged characters for a women’s fiction idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d never written for adults before, but … why not try? I wrote both during that year. The nice thing about writing for a new age group, adult readers, was that a whole new slew of editors was open to us.
In October 2021 we went out with my women’s fiction, BBB. I’d also wrapped up edits on my adult fantasy, OAFQ, so as rejections for BBB rolled in, Lauren and I were deep in revisions on the fantasy.
As we prepped the editor sub list for the fantasy (I looooove being involved in creating this list, btw), which I was SURE would sell, I discovered that there are alarmingly few editors for adult fantasy. Like … whoa. And since my agent reps other writers who do fantasy, the list of potential submissions was even smaller than I was used to since she tries to avoid simultaneous subs. But still–I loved OAFQ and I was convinced THIS was the one. New age group, new genre, my best writing to date–this was gonna be it! We went out with OAFQ in February of 2022.
As rejections came in, I started feeling a bit panicky. After all, this was the 5th project Lauren and I were sending out together, and for the first time, I didn’t have the ‘next thing’ in progress. I was used to moving my emotional eggs into the next basket as soon as a project went out, which is my best armor against rejection, kind of like an emotional game of leap-frog.
The rejections were, again, so complimentary. One dream editor said, “This is a tough one for me, because it came very close. I read all the way to the end, which is rare for me these days, because I really liked the characters and relationships that Jenna set up—[cue the rejections parts]. Still, Jenna has some real talent, so if you do not find a home for this one, then definitely keep me in mind for her future work. There is a lot of potential here.”
GAARRRGHHHHH WHY WON’T ANYONE JUST LOOOOOVE ME?
FINE. I had to write something new. AGAIN.
I’d been reading a lot of adult thrillers, with the intent of getting to know the genre better and exploring if maybe I’d want to/be capable of writing such a thing. But … was I smart enough to plot?? I’d always been such a pantser, but that didn’t seem like it would work for a complex plot. Then an idea struck. An idea that was HELLA commercial. I’d never written anything so high concept. I could see it as a book. A miniseries. A movie. I could see myself in a gown at the movie opening (again). I tentatively opened an Excel sheet and I called it “THE PLOT.” MFY was born. The book is basically The Bachelor meets The Stepford Wives, with murder. I wrote it from March to May 2022. My betas read and commented, I edited, I sent it off to Lauren, I edited some more, and then some more. We went out with MFY in July 2022, the one bright spot in a summer that was otherwise very emotionally dark, as my youngest sister died at 34.
And … here we are. September 2022. MFY has gotten a few rejections so far (4 to be precise, why not). It’s still out with plenty of editors, some of whom have already rejected BBB and OAFQ (hahaha you can’t get rid of me that easily suckahs!).
Let me say this loud and clear: I am out with my sixth project.
Not my first … certainly not my second … my sixth.
Meaning, I have 6 precious book babies that have gotten nothing but no’s. (And, if you’re keeping track, 3 book babies that never have–and probably never will–see the light of sub, for a total of 9 completed projects).
I always laugh when writers post their sub stories with comments like, “when we sent this one out, I KNEW this was the one!” Hahahahaha. I’ve thought every single one of my six sub-babies was “the one.” I have since learned not to trust my gut … at all (traitorous little whatsit). Even so, I can’t help feeling that heady rush when a new project goes out, and letting that delightful “I think this is the one” feeling wash over me. Ya know, the older I get the more I realize, life sucks plenty. Why not enjoy the good feelings while I can, whenever I can?
Some of you, at this point, may be wondering “where are the stats?” You know, the average response times, number of editors per round, how many rounds until kinda-shelving, and all that good stuff. Let’s see:
Response times: Response times have been as short as 10 days and as long as never. Most responses come between 2-3 months, with outliers in the 4-6 month range. And I hate to say it but … there is a lot of ghosting. I know. Terrible thing, ghosting. But it happens more frequently than I would have imagined.
Editors per round: We like to do around 10 editors per round, I’d say, for the average project. That said, we’ve gone smaller, and we’ve gone wider. It depends on a lot–the project, the genre, what other editors may still have your work. This is also affected by what editors my agent has other subs with (I know SHOCKER Lauren does have other clients). Then we have to wait until that editor responds about her other client’s work. This has been especially painful for my fantasy project, since the editor pool for adult fantasy is sooooo limited. So yeah … factors.
How many rounds until mostly-shelving? I’d say two big rounds and a third smaller round, usually. Then, it’s the odd editor here or there that tweets something or posts in their manuscript wish list, and I might be like “omg Lauren let’s send X project to Y!” and, if Lauren agrees, out it goes.
How to stay sane during this madness? By reading posts like these, obvi.
JK. By writing the next thing. Sorry, but you knew I’d say that.
Where do things stand now with my submission journey? MFY is in week 7, with plenty of people left to hear from. OAFQ is on round 2, with a handful of people left to hear from. BBB is out with a couple people. NTOYT and KC and AEN are each out with at least one new-to-it editor.
So I’m in the same place as usual: we’ll see.
And if you’re really, really wanting to be a writer, especially a traditionally published writer, “we’ll see” is the name of a desert-land where you’ll spend a lot of time. So take off your shoes, get comfy (as you are able), and allow yourself to keep hoping, writing, creating, not creating, resting, dreaming, crying, and when all else fails, reading other peoples’ submission stories like the bad little addicts we are.
Three fabulous places to read about being on sub:
Diana Urban’s What it’s Really Like to Go on Submission to Publishers
Kate Dylan’s awesome compilation of anonymous Sub Stories
Mindy McGinnis’s legendary Submission Hell, It’s True series
Also, follow me on Twitter, where I post brilliant writing tips such as: